Religion, Colonization and Decolonization in Congo, 1885-1960. Religion, colonisation et décolonisation au Congo, 1885-1960

Edited by Vincent Viaene, Bram Cleys, and Jan De Maeyer

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A comprehensive history of the interaction between religion and colonization

Religion in today’s Democratic Republic of Congo has many faces: from the overflowing seminaries and Marian shrines of the Catholic Church to the Islamic brotherhoods, from the healers of Kimban-guism to the televangelism of the booming Pentecostalist churches in the great cities, from the Orthodox communities of Kasai to the ‘invisible’ Mai Mai warriors in the brousse of Kivu. During the colonial period religion was no less central to people’s lives than it is today. More surprisingly, behind the seemingly smooth facade of missions linked closely to imperial power, faith and worship were already marked by diversity and dynamism, tying the Congo into broader African and global movements.

The contributions in this book provide insight into the multifaceted history of the interaction between religion and colonization. The authors outline the institutional political framework, and focus on the challenge that old and new forms of slavery entailed for the missions. The atrocities committed at the time of the Congo Free State became an existential question for young Christian communities. In the Belgian Congo after 1908, more structural forms of colonial violence remained a key issue marking religious experiences. And yet, religion also acted as a bridge. The authors emphasize the role intermediaries such as catechists or medical assistants played in the African “appropriation” of Christianity. They examine the complex interaction with indigenous religious beliefs and practices, and zoom in on the part religions played in the independence movement, as well as on their reaction to independence itself. Coming at a moment when Belgium confronts its colonial past, this volume provides a timely reassessment of religion as a key factor.

This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).

Contributors: Piet Clement (Bank of International Settlements), Bram Cleys (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Anne Cornet (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren) Marie Dunkerley (Exeter University), Zana Aziza Etambala (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren), Anne-Sophie Gijs (Université Catholique de Louvain), Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo (University of Coimbra), Emery Kalema Masua (University of the Witwatersrand), Sindani E. Kiangu (Université de Kinshasa), Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi (Stanford University) Dominic Pistor (Simon Fraser University), Jean-Luc Vellut (Université Catholique de Louvain), Vincent Viaene

Religion, Colonization and Decolonization in Congo, 1885-1960
Vincent Viaene, Bram Cleys and Jan De Maeyer

Religion, colonisation et décolonisation au Congo, 1885-1960
Vincent Viaene, Bram Cleys et Jan De Maeyer

Premières évangélisations de l’Afrique centrale et éthique sociale, 1500-1900. Entre morale de conviction et morale de responsabilité
Jean-Luc Vellut

Internationalism, Religion and the Congo Question
An introduction, 1875-1905 39
Vincent Viaene

Religion and Politics in the ‘Congo’. Portugal and the European inter-imperial competition, c. 1865-1890
Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo

Les droits des autochtones. Un enjeu dans les relations jésuites-État, fin XIXe-début XXe siècle
Anne-Sophie Gijs

Catholic Missionaries and the Production of Kasai as a Colonial Landscape, 1890-1960
Bram Cleys


Musique et univers sonores dans le champ missionnaire des Grands Lacs. Perception, emprunts et transferts au Kivu, Rwanda et Burundi, 1908-1940
Anne Cornet

Home is where the Heart is? Debates between missions and colonial administrators over accommodation for Congolese students at the École Unique des Assistants Médicaux Indigènes, Léopoldville, 1929-1946
Marie Bryce

Religion et médecine au Congo Belge. Pratiques et savoirs des 1assistants médicaux «indigènes» issus de Kisantu (Fomulac) et de leurs patients, 1937-1961
Emery M. Kalema

Vivre (à) la Mission. Mémoires individuelles, histoire collective 
Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi


Tempels Revisited. The conversion of a missionary in the Belgian Congo, 1930s-1960s
Piet Clement

Developmental Colonialism and Kitawala Policy in 1950s Belgian Congo
Dominic Pistor

Les missions catholiques et les émeutes de Léopoldville, 4 janvier 1959
Zana Etambala

Le mouvement muleliste comme théorie et pratique religieuses en diocèse d’Idiofa (Province du Kwilu, R.D.C.)
Sindani E. Kiangu

Authors / Auteurs 

Format: Edited volume - paperback

Size: 238 × 170 × 21 mm

336 pages

ISBN: 9789462701427

Publication: October 22, 2020

Series: KADOC-Studies on Religion, Culture and Society 22

Languages: English: United States | French

Stock item number: 137925

Bram Cleys studied history at KU Leuven and is education officer at the University Centre for Development Cooperation (UCOS), a Belgian NGO.
Jan De Maeyer is professor emeritus of contemporary church history at KU Leuven and honorary director of KADOC-KU Leuven. His research focuses on political and social Catholicism, material Christianity, and the development of religious institutions and congregations.
Vincent Viaene studied history and international relations at KU Leuven, the Sorbonne, and Yale University. He was a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at KU Leuven, a senior Fellow at KADOC and a Marie Curie Fellow at Oxford University. In 2012 he joined the Belgian diplomatic corps. Since 2015 he is seconded to the Belgian Royal Household as Advisor of His Majesty King Philip.
[...] a worthwhile contribution to scholarship on Congo [...] hopefully it should help stimulate new research in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Congolese religious history.
David Maxwell, The English Historical Review, 2022, ceac253,

Its three sections proceed, as the editors explain, from the political to the socio-cultural and personal order, yet, each section exemplifies the deep entanglements of these domains. The authors aim to put religious agency at centre stage, focusing on the cultural interface created by the missionary encounter. This approach highlights both the interplay between objectives and interests of consecutive colonial administrations, policies of Protestant and Catholic missionary organisations, practices of missionaries on the ground and mediation and appropriations by their converts: African Christians who became key players in carving out multiple meanings of religion in Congo.
Marit Monteiro, SZRKG/RSHRC/RSSRC, 116 (2022), 403–506, DOI: 10.24894/2673-3641.00127


The book is engaging, enjoyable, and a high-quality product, with all chapters well written and capably edited. Students of the colonial encounter, and in particular of missionary action in Congo, will find rich references and numerous suggested avenues for future research.
Matthew G. Stanard, TSEG, VOL. 18, NO. 2, 2021,, DOI: 10.52024/tseg10788

L’ année 2010 est marquée par la commémoration du cinquantenaire de l’ indépendance de la République du Congo. Parmi les très nombreuses manifestations scientifiques qui prennent alors place, le KADOC organise un colloque international intitulé ‘Religion, Colonization and Decolonization in Congo 1885-1960’. Celui-ci réunit une trentaine d’intervenants, historiens et hommes d’Église surtout, dont la plupart proviennent de Belgique, de la République démocratique du Congo ou des États-Unis. Les actes de cette rencontre internationale paraissent dix ans plus tard sous le titre bilingue ‘Religion, Colonization and Decolonization in Congo 1885-1960. Religion, colonisation et décolonisation au Congo, 1885-1960.’

Hiermee zijn een aantal aspecten uit de geschiedenis van Congo aangesneden, maar die toch ook wel doen verlangen naar een nieuw standaardwerk over de rol van missionarissen en kerken vanaf de 19e eeuw tot de huidige Democratische Republiek Congo. Hoe de verschillende congregaties en ordes te werk gingen in de hun toegewezen gebieden, hoe de verhoudingen met de staatsinstellingen verliepen, hoe zich geleidelijk aan een inlandse clerus en kerk ontwikkelde, en welke rol de verschillende (christelijke) kerken en andere geloofsgemeenschappen vandaag spelen in dit onmetelijke land. Dekolonisatie betekent niet dat men eenvoudig weg de geschiedenis achter zich kan laten. Integendeel. De spanningsvelden die er in de huidige RDC zijn hebben hun historische wortels. Dit soort werken, zoals de bundel die nu voorligt, kunnen er toe bijdragen om niet alleen de politieke of sociale geschiedenis van het land te beschrijven, maar ook aandacht te hebben voor de belangrijke rol van religies, onder welke vorm dan ook.
Herman Lodewyckx, Acta Comparanda, 2021

Al vanaf de eerste bladzijde van de inleiding poneren zij immers dat ze vooral de verscheidenheid van de religieuze ervaringen ten tijde van kolonisatie en dekolonisatie tot hun recht willen laten komen. Daarmee nemen ze expliciet afstand van de te eenzijdige focus op missionering die de religieuze geschiedenis van koloniaal Congo tot dan had beheerst. Religie was er veel méér, zo betogen ze, dan de pogingen van katholieke (en in snel verminderende mate ook protestantse) missionarissen om hun geloof aan de Congolese bevolking op te dringen. [...] Dat deze verscheidenheid door de samenstellers van dit boek in de schijnwerpers wordt geplaatst, is vanzelfsprekend positief. Zoals ze het zelf verwoorden in hun inleiding: “The picture is one of vivid colours. It is not yet high definition, but it is no longer monochrome.”
Marnix Beyen, Volkskunde 2021 - 1